Need some convincing about why scythes are a worthwhile investment?

That’s not a cut-proof glove, THIS is a cut-proof glove…

If Crocodile Dundee wore gloves...

If Crocodile Dundee wore gloves…

I’ve been trying a couple of different cut proof/resistant gloves over the last few months, but this pic from Jeff Keys, a.k.a Man With Scythe, takes the cake for personalised protection.

Jeff approached Sam Bloomfield (lordsrbloomfield@gmail.com) at the Lost Trades Fair this year, to ask about having something made up for him. Because Sam makes armour. Jeff is a big fan of rigger’s gloves – inexpensive, soft, thin leather – but rigger’s gloves don’t stand up so well to a scythe blade.

The end result is a detachable piece that protects the areas Jeff is most concerned about for his particular honing action. Once his glove wears out he can replace it and put the armour back on top.

“Beautiful and a perfect fit”, he reports. And I can’t imagine it wearing out any time soon…

5 Comments

  1. Well, comrade, this ‘safety glove’ post is simply hilarious!! At least to me… and I suspect it would be likewise to the countless thousands (if not millions) of all the old mowers spanning centuries of scythe-using experience. Now ‘dead’, they may be able to ‘read’ your post and their left-over skeletons are probably also rattling with laughter.

    As a prelude, I want to make plain that I wouldn’t have sat down to share my viewpoint if your new post were about ‘just gloves’, plain gloves. Although — in association with scythes — a glove-related topic in itself is prone to ‘get my goat’, here you are talking of a piece of hand armor, for heaven’s sake! How many people out there, really, will even have the opportunity — provided they could afford it — to have such an ‘insurance gadget’ custom-made?
    Or are you thinking of commissioning that smith to produce them in great numbers and then market them globally (with an endorsement of “Man with Scythe”)? Or is he?

    In any case — now that we are on the theme — what’s ‘wrong’ with gloves? To “Man with Scythe” and the rest of the gloved scythe gang, obviously nothing. Well, God bless their hearts and keep harm away from their hands!

    As for another perspective, whenever I see folks grasping handles of tools like an ax, hoe, pitchfork, or certainly a scythe, with gloved hands, I feel as though I’m witnessing some unconscious, but real disconnection
    Perhaps it is because I have at times found myself wanting to be as close as I can get to the interface between the molecules of the steel and the substance of the grass, the wood or the soil — while asking: How do they interact, metaphysically, on that level of close relationships? Is it a war-like encounter resulting in the victory of one and the death of the other? Or is there instead an ‘agreement’ based on mutual understanding of the cosmic play (‘drama’ or dharma if you will) and both are laughing through the process? I do not know the answers (yet :-)) but believe that holding with my bare skin the part of a tool which brings me closer to its working end is, in itself, a little step towards that understanding.
    These sort of musings, you see, have been part of my scythe using experience for many, many years. (Once, I tried to communicate a bit of that in a short essay, The Mower’s Trance.)
    As with anything we ever attempted to put into words, we have never tried to keep track of how many people might actually read it; what would it tell us anyway? Yet from the small portion of scythe-related jabber out there in the electronic form that we have read (often by suggestions from, or directly forwarded by friends) it appears that scythe business dominance-related issues (these usually cloaked in ‘educational garb’) and, yes, safety issues, far outweigh the ‘inner’ and sharing aspects of what motivated us (the Vido family) to get, once upon a time, so deeply involved. For these reasons we have taken a step back from the scene (with our long-neglected website as one of the side effects). We have not “given up”, per se, but rather focused our energy in a somewhat alternate direction…

    But now, back to the gloves — while leaving the decidedly ‘spiritual’ aspect of all this aside.

    Countless tool users from (likely) every culture and all walks of life have delighted in simply feeling the fine polish of well-used wooden handles as only bare sweaty hands can imbue them with. That feeling can border on a sort of sensuality that not I, but perhaps poets, can put into words on behalf of people who have not actually experienced it. Well, gloves quite effectively put a brick wall, so to speak, between the person and the sensual feeling.
    I may be stretching the analogy a bit, but it just now occurred to me that wearing gloves while using certain tools may be somewhat like wearing a condom while making love, no? (I may be way off here because I have no experience with the latter, though I have heard references to that effect).
    Still, while on the topic of sensuality, for me, being barefoot, during the five adequately warm months up here in the North, means really feeling the ground beneath my feet. (Do I dare even say ‘making love with’ The Earth?)
    To that end, I suppose, I willingly ‘risk’ getting injured. Hmm… (a grin). In retrospect of the 40 plus years of doing so, the injuries to my feet have been so few and minor that having traded sensuality for safety would have been preposterous! And I’m not talking here of taking a leisurely barefoot walk in a park from time to time, but rather being barefoot 24/7, while for more than 20 years tilling acres of sharp rock-strewn fields, walking behind draft horses (which I also kept mostly barefoot). Plus using axes extensively and, yes, even a chainsaw.
    As for the risks of glove-less scythe use, I have never cut myself while honing in the field (though yes, it can happen). At that, from some long ago point in my still-relatively-green-experience on, I made it more or less a routine to hone with closed eyes. Why take yet more risk? To me, a no brainer — my ‘connecting with’ the tool, and particularly the edge, would take on another dimension… But, whoopsie, I’m diverting into the metaphysics again, and better leave that be.

    Now, dear Marshall, you (and other more ‘normal’ folks) may wave off the feedback above as a mere rant from a nutcase, which won’t shatter my stand nor my psyche. On the other hand, you all could consider that — with rare exceptions — wearing gloves for reasons other than protection from cold is, historically, a recent phenomenon.
    And, it happens to fit ‘like a glove’ (pun intended) with the overall dis-connecting from what once upon a time the globe’s working people understood and were ‘nourished’ by. It appears that the modern cultures have chosen, or been conned into, being more… hmm… do they call it ‘realistic’? Well, I interpret that as more scared (of injuries of whatever sort). Safety gear and other versions of ‘insurance’ have been taking the place of being alert… (Alert and mistrust are not necessary synonyms in my dictionary, by the way.)
    Regarding specifically the topic on hand, one contributing factor, possibly a minor one, may be that slave-labour-produced gloves have become very cheap and thus easily available to anyone with the slightest bit of injury fear. Even then, if you consider the globe as a whole (one family, isn’t it?) the glove-less hand laborers, whether by choice or financial necessity, still far outnumber those who do wear gloves. And it is by the sweat of the former that the privileged ‘West’ has largely been growing fat, while they and their children survive on bare subsistence rations…
    Solidarity, anyone?

    Sincerely,
    Peter

    P.S.
    While sharing these here thoughts, it occurred to me that I had made a comment on this topic in the instructional guidelines of which you, Marshall, are one of the official co-editors (but this far you have not yet read). I found it in the unfinished manuscript and here it is:

    “While on the topic of gloves, we wish to point out that a scythe held in gloved hands is definitely a modern ‘fad’. One would probably have to wear out several pairs of shoes walking the European countryside to find an old mower wearing gloves. And if one were to be found (who has not been learning about this tool by watching YouTube videos) he could rightly be considered an anomaly”.

    Having stated the above, I obviously ‘could not’ easily shake off the opinion that your Australian “Man with Scythe” is a historical anomaly; perhaps a good man, but still an anomaly. And now, with that armored glove, in more ways than one…

    To leave you with another related thought, here is something that our ‘pen and phone’ friend of several years, Lawrence Dowsett, once said in response to the numerous fear-based comments to videos of Ashley splitting firewood while barefoot: “If you can’t feel safe enough using an ax while barefoot, you shouldn’t be using the ax at all”.
    This is coming from a man who grew up on a working cattle ranch in Australia and swung the ax since he was a kid, who for many years now has worked as cowboy/ranch manager in whatever is left of USA’s ‘Wild West’, and who has also taught extensive crosscut and ax-manship courses to national parks’ rangers.
    The key element of Lawrence’s advise, of course, is to pay attention (or pack it in) — the equivalent of the Eastern/Zen/Tai Chi “mindful presence“. An armored glove can’t come close; in fact it will lead its users in just the opposite direction…

    • Ah, Peter, methinks the guru doth protest too much. But since you laboured to reply, I’ll do the same.

      The armoured glove above was posted merely for interest’s sake. I certainly have no intention of engaging the armourer to make these (although you have reminded me that I offered to provide his email address for anyone who might want to reach him, which I’ve now added to the original post), and I doubt Jeff would consider it any less a non-lucrative pursuit than mowing with a scythe, but if there was enough interest to justify a run of artisan armoured gloves, of course I would do it.

      My summary reply is this: Regarding the use of gloves in general for mowing, I would have thought that the man almost singlehandedly responsible for the popularisation of that abomination known as a “peening jig” would acknowledge that there are various levels of competency and tool-savvy to which we need to cater.

      I personally don’t wear gloves very often, even though I resolved to do so after I first cut half way into my finger while honing. Not wearing them very often is why I’m now sporting a cut on the back of a knuckle, which I inflicted while handling a blade I’d just finished honing for a customer last week. I hit the hay in the small hours of the morning far more often than I should, so being as alert as I should be is often not an option. I am also naturally clumsy.

      When we first started this business, an adviser suggested we take out products insurance. “Why?”, I asked. “Well, what happens if your blades are inadequately packed?” “Pffft”, thought I, “our gear will be well-packed”. And then a customer reported having cut herself while opening one of our packages. “Just as well I’m not the litigious type”, she wrote, or something to that effect.

      So it is for reasons like these that I always like to make our customers at least aware of the existence of cut-resistant gloves – even when we don’t have them in stock. Tony, on the other hand, like you, hates wearing protective equipment while using a scythe, but he acknowledges that some customers want them, so we provide them.

      While I can’t speak for Jeff, it’s my understanding that he ordered the armoured glove as much to support an artisan as for his own protection. It was an inspirational weekend at the Lost Trades Fair where he met the armourer, and Jeff wrote in an emailed response to my post above, “For me it’s more Quixote than Dundee…”

      Jeff routinely wears leather gloves, as well as gaiters, and if that’s what makes his day pass easier, I’ll not pass comment. And I would suggest it might be wise to spend a day in his shoes – or barefoot, as is your preference (and often mine, while mowing) – amongst the dense sub-tropical, snake-haven vegetation of Queensland where he works, before passing judgement on his safety attire. I learnt to bite my tongue while demonstrating with Jeff: while he peened a blade, I looked over his shoulder with a look of only half mock-horror on my face as I watched what to me looked like a rather heavy-handed and ‘unconventional’ approach to the task, and yet once finished, that blade took the hair off his arm, and he had settled into a comfortable mowing rhythm while I was still dicking around with my rig setup trying to find the optimum ‘tweak’ that would make me look less like an incompetent fraud – in terrain and conditions much closer to mine than to his.

      As to the metaphysical aspects, well, again, each to their own – while I’m inclined to agree that there’s something mysterious about the art of using a scythe, for many of our customers, they just want to get the job done. The road maintenance crew who purchased from us won’t be doing much philosophy by the roadside, for example, and as one amusing fellow wrote on a mower from yesteryear’s lengthy reflection that Benjamin Bouchard posted recently:

      They sure did talk a lot about cutting grass back then. Me:
      Today, I cut my grass. Then I drank a beer.
      The End.

      If you truly want to be as close to the interface between blade and grass as possible, you could try holding the tang directly, rather than using that overly obtrusive chunk of wood between the blade and you. If it’s “grounding” you’re concerned about, dry leather has an electrical resistance of ~100kΩ, compared to dry timber at ~100,000,000,000kΩ – so it’s the snath that’s really keeping you from the buzz of electons whizzing around at the molecular level. Indeed, with Jeff’s armoured gloves, he could raise his metallic finger as an aerial to pick up all the good vibes coursing through the ether as well…

      In all seriousness, though, you seem to want it both ways with regard to gloves – you decry the slave-labour-produced cheap gloves available today, and also decry the fact that no-one would be able to afford one of Jeff’s armoured gloves. There’s truth enough to both positions, but you’ve not suggested a solution for the naturally clumsy, bleary-eyed folks like me (although I can hear you now – “get to bed”). In terms of a worker being worthy of their wages, I would expect that more work and craft has gone into that armoured glove than into even a Mennonite-produced snath that you encourage us to hold onto ungloved.

      I am, of course, being facetious in a few places here, and I will end with another cheeky dig; I hope this is culturally transferrable enough to not carry offense between friends, as it would not carry offense between friends here “Down Under”. In the context of a post about gloves, it’s difficult not to be tempted to ‘throw down the gauntlet’, relying on you having thick enough skin without additional armour, so I ‘commissioned’ another photo from Jeff, of the controversial glove in question (and if my joke fails and you do take offense, you can at least be thankful that I didn’t ask him to fit a condom to it), in a tongue-in-cheek (or finger-in-glove) effort to suggest that we both have far too much to do, to be quibbling about who should wear what…

      the one-armour-fingered salute

  2. While I’m personally not one for gloves, I sympathize with Marshall’s desire to provide PPE access to those less-than-adroit customers. Not everyone will achieve the same symphonic heights of tool harmonization that others will, and besides, it only takes one mistake to do one’s self a most grievous injury with a scythe blade. After all, one does not have an accident on purpose, and accidents come in two major kinds: beginner accidents, and expert accidents, with the accidents made by experts often being the most injurious. Get too comfy with a dangerous tool or process and that’s when the worst accidents happen.

    While the armor is a bit more of a novelty or indulgence, it’s at least a well executed minimalistic adaptation of historical armor to a more peaceful pastime. It being presented here makes for some good amusement, and I’m glad that it was shared.

    As far as the metaphysics goes, I’ll take plain old physics, myself. Philosophy and spirituality have their place, with the scythe and in other matters, but when it comes to tool design and function I think that’s solidly in the realm of engineering and science, and indulging in romantic mysticism gets in the way of the larger community culturing an understanding of the mechanisms that actually cause the tool to behave in the way it does. You’re very welcome to disagree if you like, though. 🙂

  3. I see my gauntlet as artful safety with a large dose of metaphor and my tongue firmly pressed in my cheek. As can be seen in the photo above it may also serve as a tool for nonverbal communication with those who fail to respect my chosen craft of mowing with a scythe and rain ridicule as I pass.

    I appreciate what Peter’s saying about connectedness but how we each experience and express such subjectivity finally is a matter of taste.

    I recall such a moment when for only the second time in the thousands of honing stops I cut myself. Exhausted after seven hours of mowing in the sun my snath slipped and the blade fell against the back of my gloved hand. It barely paused as it sliced through the leather and cut deeply into the back of my right index finger to rest in a deep groove of bone.

    The cut was painless. I wrapped it in my kerchief and pulled the glove over it and continued mowing. Stimulated by my activity the glove quickly filled with blood which ran from the hole and down the handle of my snath. In this moment I indeed felt connected with the noumenon, however, I was thankful my work was soon done and I could seek medical aid to cleanse the wound and staunch the flow.

    My Polish doctor, when treating me said I was lucky not to have lost my finger. He recalled finger injuries and amputations being commonplace among the mowers he knew in the village of his youth.

    Thus my artful gauntlet, which in the scandinavian tradition secretly carries a stamp of a rune to protect the wearer from metaphysical attack.

  4. Rumor has it that the stubborn Peter Vido may have finally taken to heart all the well-meant warnings of potential cuts to hands while whetting a scythe blade.

    He used to be a danger-prone character boring many of us good safety-oriented folks with his staunch anti-glove rants. Well, no more. He was recently caught on camera wearing chainsaw gloves and looking more than just slightly concerned about that dangerous edge he was carefully honing). The unnamed photographer’s comment was: “Proof that even old dogs can learn new tricks.”

    (Despite his newfound fear of sharp scythes, it also looks like he was trying not to laugh…)
    Peter Vido facing the fear

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